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US swine flu vaccine too late to beat autumn wave

President Barack Obama's decision last week to label swine flu a national emergency will likely increase demand for a vaccine that is already in short supply. Yet by the time large amounts of vaccine arrive, it may be too late to stop most infections.

On 23 October, Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, reported that the US had received 27.4 million doses of vaccine. This is not enough even for the country's 42 million most vulnerable people: pregnant women, people caring for babies, children under 4, front-line healthcare workers and under-18s with medical problems.

By now, the US should have had 120 million doses, according to predictions in July. This estimate was cut to 45 million when it emerged in August that the vaccine virus was growing at half the usual rate. Now even some of those doses have not arrived. Several companies are now using a faster-growing strain to make vaccine, but supplies won't arrive for weeks.

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